Monday, January 18, 2016

Voices from the Past: The Letter of an Evangelical Minister to His Bishop, Resigning the Ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church

The Rev. James A. Latane, an Episcopal minister and an evangelical leader, wrote this letter to his bishop explaining why he was withdrawing from the ministry of the Episcopal Church over 140 years ago, in 1874.  The Rev. Latane, like Bishop George David Cummins and other evangelic Episcopalians, had become alarmed by the growth and spread of ritualism, sacerdotalism, sacramentalism, and exclusivism in the Protestant Episcopal Church. After a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to contain their growth and spread, the more conservative of the evangelical Episcopalians left the Protestant Episcopal Church and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church.

If they were to travel through time to the present century and visit the Episcopal Church, the Reformed Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church in North America and the other Continuing Anglican Churches, they would be appalled by what they found in these denominations. The ritualism, sacerdotalism, sacramentalism, and exclusivism against which they had so valiantly fought not only have overtaken the Episcopal Church and the Reformed Episcopal Church but also are flourishing in the Anglican Church in North America and the other Continuing Anglican Churches.

The Rev. Latane would be consecrated a bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church in June 1879, five years after he left the Episcopal Church. He served as Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church from May 1900 until his death in February 1902.

The Rev. Latane in his letter summarizes the issues that divided evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in his day. These issues continue to divide the Anglican Church in the twenty-first century. Early in his letter Latane makes a very important observation:
I will not say that in the Church there are two seeds, the seed of Romanism and the seed of Protestantism; but I will say that the Church, as it now is, is an army with two banners, justification by the sacraments inscribed on the one, and justification by faith on the other. And there never can be any cordial union between the parties arranged under these two banners. It has been tried in the Church time and again, tried in missionary operations, in Theological seminaries, and in Church-book Societies, tried honestly, and by good men on each side, and, in every instance, has lamentably failed. The two parties are not agreed, and cannot walk together. Their differences are real, and are irreconcileable. The Low-Church party cannot coƶperate with the High-Church party without being false to what it has ever held to be the doctrines of the Reformation, and without sacrificing what it believes to be the first principles of the Oracles of God. The division in the Church therefore, with the unhappy strife and discord attending it, is one which cannot be healed.
The high cost of attempted coexistence is compromised beliefs and convictions and an eroded theological identity. This is what is happening in the Anglican Church in North America today.

The Anglo-Catholic-philo-Orthodox party has occupied the place of power in that denomination and is entrenching its views. It dominates the College of Bishops and has given the denomination an unreformed Catholic Ordinal and Catechism. It is in the process of giving the ACNA an unreformed Catholic Prayer Book. It is substituting these formularies for the historic formularies of the Anglican Church, replacing their doctrine and principles with its own.

With the completion of the proposed Prayer Book in 2019 and the canonical provision enforcing its use throughout the denomination, confessing Anglicans in the ACNA whose beliefs and convictions are more in line with the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies will have little choice but to abandon those beliefs and convictions or, like the Rev. Latane and the nineteenth century evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, leave the denomination and form a new one. The Anglo-Catholic-philo-Orthodox party is not committed to a policy of comprehension but of Catholicization. None of the formularies that the College of Bishops has approved to date provide any space for the beliefs and convictions of confessing Anglicans.

Take time to read this letter from an evangelical leader of the past. It has a message for confessing Anglicans today.

It is with sincere grief that I write to announce to you my purpose to withdraw from the ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

I know that this announcement will cause you both surprise and pain; but I beg you to believe that the decision has not been reached without much reflection and prayer, and that the step is taken with the utmost reluctance, and only from imperative convictions of duty. Every earthly consideration is against it. My relations to you, and to Bishop Whittle, and to many dear brethren in the ministry in the Diocese of Virginia, my affection for the Church in Staunton, where I commenced my ministry and labored for fourteen years, my many obligations to the people of my present charge, my desire, attested by my whole ministry, to do the Lord's work in quietness and peace, the natural shrinking which every manly heart must feel from entering upon a course which will cause me to be esteemed a fool by many whose good opinion I value, and the uncertainties of the future, both as to the field of my labor and the support of my family, are all against the step, and have all been calmly, deliberately weighed.

On the other hand, I have nothing to plead in favor of it, and nothing to sustain me in taking it, but a clear conviction of duty to God and to the cause of His truth in the earth.

Let me say further, that in deciding the matter I have not taken counsel with others. For obvious reasons, until my mind was made up I could have, and up to this moment I have had, no communication, directly, or indirectly, with Bishop Cummins or any of his adherents. And I beg you to believe that had I felt that the case admitted of it, I would most gladly have sought counsel of you and of some of my brethren in the ministry. But when the matter was not a new one, when all the facts of the case were before me, and when it was a simple question of duty in view of the facts, I felt that I could most safely decide it where I have at least sought to decide it, in my secret chamber, and on my knees before God.

Let me then state distinctly my reasons for leaving the Episcopal Church. They are just those difficulties which have been for some years past a burden and grief to many in the Church. Read More

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